Plant Spotlight: Redbud Tree

The Redbud Tree (Cercis Canadensis) is a remarkable tree that grows in USDA garden planting zones 4-8 and will easily tolerate the toxic soil beneath a walnut tree. Sometimes white, but usually pinkish-purple buds make a show in early spring, growing on the tree’s bare branches. Their bloom heralds warm days and new possibilities. Although redbud is a tree natively grown in the understory of woodlands, it is not the favorite food source for all wildlife; squirrels and songbirds will sometimes eat the seed. Once the tree is done blooming, it leaf’s out with dark green heart-shaped foliage, and then produces bunches of flat brown seed pods. Leaves of the tree turn a brilliant golden orange in the fall and the long seed pods stay until late winter. Flowers can be forced indoors in vases in early spring.

When, Where, and How to Plant

Plant redbuds in the early spring in a rich, fertile soil that is high in organic matter and well drained. They prefer bright sun, but because of their nature as understory trees, they will also tolerate varying levels of shade. Buy plants that have been grown at a local nursery so that the tree is used during the winters in your part of the state. Remove all burlap, rope, and wire, then water the root ball well before planting. Dig a hole the same depth of the root ball, but at least 2 times as broad when planting. The tree will grow to approximately 6 to 30 feet X 6 to 30 feet.

Growing Tips

Redbud is a tree that does like fertilizer; what type and how much fertilizer is needed can be determined by a soil test and a discussion with your local county extension office. Typically, it should be fertilized with an organic fertilizer in the spring. Mulching the tree with several inches of compost out to the drip line annually will help enrich the soil of the tree, and then water consistently throughout the season. Adding an extra layer of hay mulch the first and second season will help insulate the root ball. Pruning should be done in spring immediately after the tree flowers.

If planted at the edge of a woodland or in a shady area, redbud trees are known to lean towards the light, which might affect the shape of the tree. Overcrowding redbud or planting them in heavy, damp shade can encourage extensive fungal issues to develop such as anthracnose, wood rot, gray mold, and verticillium wilt. Plant the trees with plenty of room for air circulation and as close to a sunny location as possible. Redbuds look attractive when planted in groups of 3 to 5. White blooming redbuds look marvelous when planted as a white centerpiece to a very colorful bulb garden.

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